Utah governor strips married gay couples of rights

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. - PHOTO: Wikipedia

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Jan. 8 ordered state agencies not to recognize as valid the same-sex marriages recorded in late December and early January in the state.

A federal judge ruled in December that Utah's amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman is unconstitutional. The judge did not issue a stay with his ruling, allowing for about 1,000 same-sex couples to get married at the end of the year.

On Jan. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the ruling until the appeals court could review the case.

That blocked more gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses, but many experts expected Utah to recognize those marriages already recorded.

On Jan. 8, Herbert told those at state agencies not to honor the marriages.

Responding, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, said, "Today's decision harms hundreds of Utah families and denies them the respect and basic protections that they deserve as legally married couples. Gov. Herbert has once again planted himself on the side of discrimination by preserving the second-class status he believes gay and lesbian Utahans merit."

Others noted the irony of the governor of a predominantly Mormon state creating a situation that could force married gay couples to leave their homes for more welcoming states.

"I grew up here. I know the history. This state was supposed to be where people came to be protected from intolerance," said Salt Lake City resident Cathy Menehue, who hopes to some day marry her longtime partner in her hometown.

Gay rights activists are urging the federal government to recognize the marriages that Utah will not recognize. 

“Utah’s rush to ignore the marriages of more than one thousand loving gay and lesbian couples is cruel, demeaning and, as Gov. Herbert himself acknowledges, causes real harm to their families and children,” said Adam Umhoefer of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which challenged California's Proposition 8 and won. "These families should not be stuck in legal limbo while the State’s appeal plays out. We call on the federal government to give them some measure of human dignity to which they are constitutionally entitled by recognizing their marriages under federal law."